The need for standards-based Green Curriculum and the role it plays in the college experience.
Why Middle School Teachers and the Classroom?
As key agents of information and influence who interact with students daily and know them well, classroom teachers are positioned to impart vital college knowledge to their students. The role and influence of teachers is particularly powerful in the middle school years. These years – sixth to eighth grade – are a critical period in the psychosocial development of students (Santrock, 2007). Research has indicated that the transition from an elementary school to a traditional middle school involves psychological, social, and academic adaptations that can be overwhelming. These school years are “a key period of vulnerability” (Cooper, Denner, & Lopez, 1999, p. 51).
For minority and low-income students, often concentrated in large urban schools, the transition can be compounded by crowded classrooms, under prepared and underpaid teachers, and inadequate facilities (Gandara, 2001). In addition, the quality of teacher-student relationships in middle school plays a significant role in whether a student sustains motivation to learn as well as academic progress (Davis, 2006; Hufton, Elliott, & Illushin, 2003). Teachers as the primary facilitators of academic knowledge are brokers that can help students succeed by holding high expectations and supporting students’ goals and aspirations (Cooper et al., 1999).
Integration of Environmental Awareness
Pollution in the United States poses health risks for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, language, or country of origin. A large percentage of U.S. Latinos, however, live and work in urban and agricultural areas where they face heightened danger of exposure to air pollution, unsafe drinking water, pesticides, and lead and mercury contamination. These hazards can cause serious health problems, including an increased risk of asthma and cancer; waterborne diseases such as giardiasis, hepatitis, and cholera; and neurological and developmental problems.
The introduction of ecological and environmental awareness among Latino youth is valuable since it brings awareness of the students and their environment, as well as the myriad career opportunties in the green career sector. Many students welcome an opportunity to take responsbility in the well being of their communities and the integration of green concepts in the classroom engages those students in a positive environment.
College Knowledge as Conceptual Knowledge
The concept of college knowledge is based on the awareness and understanding of the different elements involved in pursuing higher education or more specifically the knowledge of how to prepare, plan, and pay for a college education. For many students, in particular students from under represented and under served communities, the concept of “going to college” is difficult to grasp. Many of these students will be the first in the family to go to college. Most have not visited nor seen a college campus. How does a learner attach meaning to and extend effort on something that has little or no relevance to them? Meaningful learning occurs when the learner can associate new information with other ideas, especially if the new information can be related to oneself (Ormrod, 2006). “Go to college” may have little meaning to a student who cannot make the association between their classroom learning, academic progress, and preparing for a college education. By providing information on how the features are connected, students gain understanding or comprehension of a new concept such as “go to college.” In addition, research demonstrates that learning is a social endeavor and takes place in the context of interactions with people in the environment (Nieto, 1999; Cummins, 2001). Thus without exposure to and familiarity with persons, places, or practices in the social setting related to higher education, some students are at a disadvantage for understanding the concept of “go to college.”
Integrating College Knowledge into Standards Based Instruction
The Latino Green Project Green Curriculum project is based on the definition as identified through education research and the action research facilitated through the implementation of a teacher-centered, classroom-based college awareness program. Results from the program’s successful three-year implementation in 6th grade classrooms in Los Angeles and Orange Counties revealed a high level of participation and dedication to the program by teachers. Through field interviews and survey feedback from teachers, the program identified the need and desire by teachers for instructional strategies and curriculum content to help them build students’ college knowledge while teaching within academic content standards.